Blue jays have always been a rarity for me to see, even more so than the cardinal. They are very beautiful and interesting looking birds that I wish I could see more often. Blue jays are passerine birds, which means that they have 3 toes in the front and one in the back, which is perfect for perching. Passerine birds account for more than half of all birds.
Blue jays are mostly blue with white underparts and a blue crest. They have a collar of black around their necks and their faces are white. The wings can be a mix of blue, white, and black and the feathers on their head can be up or down according to the mood they are in. Usually with most birds, when the crest is up it means they are aggressive or cautious. When it is down, it means they are submissive or scared.
Blue jays can measure from 9-12 inches from bill to tail and weigh 2.5-3.5 ounces. Their wings can spread out up to 17 inches and the males are slightly larger than the females. They look alike and the only way to tell the difference is in their nesting behaviors. Most blue colored birds don’t have a pigment that turns their feathers blue. The structure of the feathers creates the color because of light interference, so if the feather is destroyed then the color would be as well.
This bird’s diet consists mainly of seeds, nuts, some fruits, and insects. They will hide nuts to be eaten later, like squirrels do. They look for food in trees or on the ground, and can sometimes snatch an insect right out of the air. They also eat bread, meat, grains, corn, and occasionally eggs. If you have a bird feeder, they will shy away from other birds because oftentimes other birds are aggressive towards them.
Blue jays are distributed throughout southern Canada to as far south as Florida and Texas and stops where the Steller’s Jays territory begins, who are closely related. There has been cross breeding between the two jays, due mostly to more tree growth because of less fires.
Little is known about their migratory habits. Some stay in wintery conditions, while others fly south, mainly thought to be because of food availability. Younger jays migrate more than adults, with flocks of anywhere from 5-250 birds flying in the daytime. They prefer to settle in forests that are not too dense.
Blue jays are smart, curious, and inquisitive by nature. They are important to other birds simply for the fact that they will sound an alarm to smaller birds if there is a predator around. They can also impersonate sounds from predatory birds, but it is not known whether it’s to ward off other birds to keep food to themselves or to see if a predator is in the area. Owls who try to nest near blue jays will be pestered until they move somewhere else. Owls are one of its predators, so they don’t want them anywhere near their home. Other enemies of the blue jay are hawks, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, crows and other birds of prey.
Blue jays begin mating from March-July with their lifelong mates. Both birds build the nest from roots, moss, cloth, paper, twigs and more. Usually they build one higher up in a tree between branches, but occasionally they will use a mailbox or another bird’s old nest. The female incubates between 3-6 eggs for a few weeks until they hatch, while the male brings her food the whole time.
Once the babies hatch, they remain in the nest until they can fly in a few weeks. As a family, they find food together and travel around for a few months before the now independent babies can fly off on their own. Blue jays are considered sexually mature when they are one year old. They normally live for up to 10 years (double that in captivity), though one was found to be 17 in the wild. Jays are susceptible to the West Nile Virus, and although many are taken, there are many more to replace them, as it stands now.
Blue jays are well known birds, despite a complete understanding of their behavior. They are the provincial bird of Prince Edward Island in Canada, the official mascot of Johns Hopkins University, and the team mascot of the Toronto Blue Jays.